NFL's injury rate takes surprising turn this fall

By Mark Maske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Washington Redskins and other NFL teams searching frantically for healthy players may not believe it, but the injury rate for players league-wide actually is down slightly this season.

Through the first eight weeks of this season, the average team had 13 injuries that caused a player to miss more than two weeks, down from 15 such injuries per team over the first eight weeks of the 2009 season, according to the NFL.

The average team had 3.8 injuries that required a player to miss more than six weeks during the first eight weeks of this season, down from 5.9 such injuries per team over the same duration last season, according to the NFL.

Curiously, the number of players who have been placed on the injured reserve list by their teams is up from last season. But league officials said several factors are involved in IR decisions and those numbers aren't necessarily the most reliable indicator of the rate at which players get hurt.

The injury rates are analyzed for the league by John Powell, an associate professor in the department of kinesiology and physical medicine and rehabilitation at Michigan State University. According to the NFL, Powell analyzes the data for the league office, the rule-making competition committee and the teams, based on detailed injury information provided by each club's medical staff.

"From this data there is no reason to assume that the frequency of injuries thus far in the 2010 season is significantly different from the same period in the 2009 season," Powell said in a written statement issued through a league spokesman.

The NFL Players Association doesn't dispute the data but calls it too soon to draw firm conclusions about this season's injury trends.

"I'm always reluctant to interpret the data before the season is completely done," Thom Mayer, the medical director for the players' union, said by telephone Tuesday. "I would consider the numbers through eight weeks to be neutral, neither up nor down in a significant way. You look at a situation like the Redskins had the other day, with so many injuries happening at once, and that certainly affects competitive issues. But it's hard to really say until the season is over."

Representatives of the league and union meet annually at the NFL scouting combine in February to discuss player safety issues, which have received increased public attention since the league last season overhauled its guidelines for treating players who suffer concussions. This season, the NFL toughened its enforcement of existing rules that prohibit hits to the head of players in defenseless positions.

Player injuries also have received increased attention because the league, as part of its labor negotiations with the union, has proposed increasing the regular season from 16 to 18 games per team (while reducing the preseason from four to two games).

The union has raised injury-related concerns. In a counterproposal, the union reportedly included provisions for a reduction in the number of allowable voluntary offseason workouts by teams; reduced contact between players in some training camp practices; two bye weeks per team during the regular season; and an increase in roster size. The league and union already had been discussing possible reductions in offseason workouts and restricting hitting in some practices.

"When it comes to an 18-game season, you don't have to be a scientist to say if you play more games, you have more injuries," Mayer said. "I have been a strong advocate for saying we have to lower the number of concussion-prone incidents. The proposal that we put forward does just that."

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